The horrifying incident of the rape and death of eight year old Asifa in Kathua (J&K) shocked the conscience of the country, when the police first found her body near a forest on 17 January this year. Keeping in mind the fairness of the trial, the case was transferred from Kathua to the district and sessions court in Pathankot by the Supreme Court on 7 May. The apex court further ordered that the case be heard on a day to day basis without causing any delay. Let us examine the status of the case so far.
It has been 6 months and Asifa’s case is currently pending with the sessions judge in Pathankot. As per the information provided on the e-courts website, the case was formally registered on 30 May and first heard on the same day. The case is being listed on a day to day basis with an average of 2 days between each of the hearings. Since the transfer of the case to the Pathankot sessions court, 112 hearings have been conducted in the case. Nearly 94% of those hearings relate to the prosecution evidence stage.
Assuming that none of the witnesses turn hostile or all the accused connected to the case suddenly confess to their crimes the case would have to go through, statement of accused under Section 313 CrPC, followed by defence evidence, final arguments and then the judgment. In April, under pressure from stakeholders, the Centre had passed an ordinance providing time limits for rape cases. The ordinance states that the investigation and the trial involving a sexual offence must be finished within 2 months each. However, the ground reality is completely different.
It is not the first time that timelines are being provided to ensure speedy disposal of cases. Several statutes provide timelines to dispose cases but with very little results. The Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 states that cheque bounce cases must be completed within 6 months period. However, a study as per DAKSH’s report (Approaches to Justice, 2017) suggests that cheque bounce cases are pending for an average of 4 years in the country. Likewise the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 states that trial under the statute should as far as possible be completed within 1 year. Research carried out by Centre for Child and the Law, NLSIU, shows that several states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka have a high percentage of cases that take more than a year to be completed.
Further, the case flow management rules that have been passed by several states provide different timelines within which cases must be completed. While majority of the states have passed these rules, they are seldom followed. The ordinance on rape cases is no different as it clearly shows the lack of field research before coming up with the timelines. The various timelines provided in different statutes are not being adhered to for 2 reasons – firstly there are no serious consequences for not adhering to the disposal timelines. Secondly and most importantly, the timelines themselves are mostly unrealistic and devised without keeping in mind the ground reality.
One argument that people raise against timelines is that judges cannot be put under pressure while imparting justice. Judges must focus not only on speed but also on the quality of justice. It is important to state that justice should be imparted not only efficiently but also swiftly. The system needs to provide a reasonable expectation to the litigant. Currently the litigant has no idea when his/her case would be decided by the court, which has serious consequences for the perception of the judiciary by the general public.
While it is true that putting pressure on judges and holding them accountable for “unreasonable” timelines would be incorrect, scientific and well-researched timelines can form the basis on which judges can be made answerable. Recently a district and sessions judge in Kolar, Karnataka finished the entire case involving attempted rape and murder of a school girl within a span of a mere 23 days. The court went on to hand death penalty to the accused. The case proceeded with lightning speed as 33 prosecution witnesses were examined on a day to day basis, completing the evidence stage in just 13 days. In a country where cases take decades to get disposed, these instances can truly boost the morale of the litigants.
While one certainly cannot expect every judge to dispose of cases within 23 days, judges nonetheless need to ensure that cases are disposed of within a reasonable period. Introducing fair and reasonable time frames based on proper field research can have twin benefits. Firstly, it can bring certainty to the system and secondly, it can help in providing a level of expectation to the litigants. Such a move is not impossible to achieve. There are certain high courts in the country that are undertaking pilot projects to understand the length of cases based on which norms can be established. One can only hope that the law ministry and other high courts too undertake pilot projects that can help in formulating timelines and norms based on scientifically driven studies.
I was born in a very poor family near Kondotti in Mallapuram district of Kerala. Then in the 80’s, like the other boys of the village, I had the dream of opening the shop. Then a child like me could not think beyond this. My father Korot Ali, who was suffering from asthma, was not able to raise the family. So I had to go to sell bamboo tokens and sometimes Pan leaves. That’s why I often used to run away from school. When I was 11 years old, father died in 1991 and my mother Fatima got the responsibility to raise five children. Our financial condition was very bad. To save from hunger, my mother left me and my two sisters in an orphanage in Kozhikode. I spent ten years there, that is, until I was 21 years old. During this time I worked with my studies, worked on the roadside hotel.
Changes in my life at the orphanage One change was that the discipline that was lacking in life came from. My studies there were in Malayalam and Urdu. There were limited resources and opportunities. My mind was studying, so I continued to move forward and passed 10th grade with good marks. After that I joined the ‘pre-degree teacher training course’. According to the rules of the orphanage, all went to sleep after eight o’clock. I used to wake up at midnight and read it. That too in the low light of the orphanage torch inside the bedsheets, so that the sleepers of those with me do not spoil.
I wanted to get regular graduation from a good college. So the village returned to talk to the family, but due to poverty I could not find anybody’s company. To run the expenses, I also started preparing for the PSC while teaching in elementary school. While being a peon in the Kerala Water Authority, he got admitted to the BA in History in Calicut University. In this way, continued studies with small jobs for three years. During that time, I passed 21 examinations of State Public Service Commission of the forest, railway ticket collector, jail warden, peon and clerk etc. with limited merit. By the time I graduated I had been 27 years old.
I did not know much about civil service, but my brother said that you have passed a PSC at the state level. You should test the civil service. On passing the PSC, the newspaper asked them what is your purpose? So I did not have any answer. On repeated occasions, I said that I want to serve the civil service. When this news was received through the newspaper, the officials of my orphanage were ready to give me full financial help. In 2009, the Zakat Foundation in Delhi conducted an examination of those candidates in Kerala, in which the students selected for the UPSC were prepared for free. I passed the examination and went to New Delhi. I got coaching there, but I did not have the money to buy books and newspapers. So started studying in the public library. It was the desire that after making someone capable, we can do something for the brothers and sisters.
In 2007-08, I gave the prelims test, then I was about 30 years old. I did not have much time. In the meanwhile I was married. The challenges were not taking the name of the end. In the midst of financial hardship, I continued to prepare for civil service even during family responsibilities. Twice I had failed, Still maintained his morale. During the third attempt, my child’s health worsened before the examination. I continued to study as well as I went through the hospital and took the exam. I gave the main examination of UPSC in my native language in Malayalam. When the result came in 2011, I was 33 years old. I got the 226th rank. Due to low English, given with the help of interviewer translator. Even then I got 201 out of 300 numbers which was a good score. Training at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration made me aware of every aspect of the job. The language of our cadre (Nagaland) was also taught. Thus, after leaving the orphanage, I was first appointed as assistant commissioner in Dimapur district.
In November 2017, I transferred to the caféar district. This district has been declared as one of 117 Ambitious districts of the country by the Prime Minister and the Policy Commission. It is one of the most remote and inaccessible districts of India. It takes 12 to 15 hours to go from Dimapur to a vehicle in a mountainous region. This terrain is so remote. This district of mine is similar to an orphanage, totally different. The secret of my success is to keep continuing efforts between discipline, hard work and challenges. My passion in studies also showed the color. If a boy like me from Kerala’s orphanage crosses all obstacles and can achieve this position, then no one can do it. If you do not pass in the first attempt then do not give up hope.